Heinrich Kunrath was one of the few thinkers that Alchemy has ever had, so much so that the publication of his Amphiteatrum Sapientiae Aeternae marked a watershed. A rare alchemist who sought the “middle world”, which perhaps it would be better to call the “means to the world”. Ancient Greeks mythologized this artifice by calling it Poseidon, but also “Hecate’s spinning top with three heads”.
Then, a great revolution shook the Mediterranean and hid all this; to the point of breaking stones, cementing obelisks, desecrating burials, and distorting the musical scale. Everything had to be silent forever – or rather, so deafeningly noisy as to reduce us to the unspoken. I believe the great revolution shook the entire world, at least as far as the ambitions of a powerful emperor could go.
Kunrath called this secret the “glue” of the world, which, like all adhesives, formed a bridge between two opposite and distant banks, between which a river flowed. However, to the frustration of our instinct for conquest, this glue bridge cannot be crossed: the waters of this numerical river are too impetuous and abysmal. Ancient rituals required that we stop at our bank and wait for someone to appear on the other side; only then could that strange being come to meet us and help us cross the bridge.
All we had to do was wait for an answer to our chant. Without it, just like in the alchemical Last Cooking, our musical scale had become just a song.
I am Italian and wish to take as an example of the story I’m telling you a simple verse by Virgil: “Septem Discrimina Vocum” (1). With this elegant and architectural sentence, Virgil describes the “sound sacrifice”.
So Orpheus rhythmically accompanies the scale of seven simple sounds of the lyre through Septem Discrimina Vocum, i.e. alternating the voice to the plucking of the comb seven times – Virgil writes exactly comb and not plectrum, as if it were a matter of combing long hair, not just plucking strings. It may seem banal, but these are the only instructions left. Of course, we know that the instrumental lyre was built by Hermes/Mercury with pieces of living animals and given it to Apollo – the only one who could play it – through Aphrodite. If we continued to add more Olympian deities, since they are all involved, we would arrive at the perfect confusion, the one that generates rejection.
“Naturam Nosce, why don’t you want to know nature?” Kunrath’s almost fanatical despondency permeates his entire book. He tells us that if someone had not called the Philosophers’ Stone a stone, no one would have called it a stone in later times. Then it occurs to me that “canto” in Venetian means cornerstone, the stone on which palaces are built. But “canto” also means chant/singing.
I remember that the first sensation I had from my first alchemical works was of being in front of a “private communication channel” – but surely a river that does not move on a single frequency. Later, mythology explained to me that the ineffable river is shaken at its origin and cannot be changed by us humans. And, sure, numbers make the difference between a puddle and an ocean. That is the rhythm.
The musicologist Marius Schneider wrote a fundamental book in 1960: The Primitive Music. I do not mean to bury the beauty of this book under further rackety presentations. It is worth the absolute silence.
The Primitive Music by Marius Schneider
2 Some Sounds create World and Humankind
3 a Chant & a Counter Chant Give Rise to Humankind
4 Acoustic Nature of Bonds between Gods and Men
5 Through Music, Humankind Imitates the Gods
7 Only Music Makes Ceremonies Effective
8 the Artistic Music Magical Root
- Nec non Threicius longa cum veste sacerdos (Orpheus) obloquitur numeris septem discrimina vocum, iamque eadem digitis, iam pectine pulsat eburno. And the Thracian priest in a sumptuous garment / sings rhythmically a scale of seven simple sounds/ now plucking with his fingers, now with the ivory comb – Vergilius Maro, Aeneid, VI, 645-647s